The tour guide on our visit to Birmingham Cathedral (otherwise known as St Philip's) on Friday 29th March 2019, revealed many surprising facts about a building that most of us had either passed by, or visited many times, and yet had never realised what an interesting history it had.
We were told that it only became a cathedral in 1905, having been built in 1708 as a parish church - which explained its rather small size. However, what it lacked in stature, it certainly made up for by its unusual architectural style and stunning stained glass windows.
Pevsner described it as a rare example of the elusive English Baroque, with its tower of fluted piers, concave sides and elaborate dome. It had been built in a simplified Italian style, albeit in a form somewhat truncated from what we see today.
At that time, box pews filled the interior, with galleries on either side, the whole being dominated by a huge three decker pulpit, built high so that the preacher could be seen from the seats at the back of the gallery. The communion table was forced to hide behind it.
As the congregation grew, the church was enlarged with a new chancel in 1884. Several Corinthian columns flank the chancel, some having been artfully painted to resemble marble. Sadly, a couple of these tend to obscure part of the three stained glass windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones which Miss Emma Chadwick Villiers-Wilkes, a wealthy benefactress, paid to be installed.
Our visit was nicely rounded off with a very welcome hot drink and biscuits and we were left to continue gazing at the windows!